• Worcester Select Board balks at library formula
     | February 27,2013

    MONTPELIER — Worcester town leaders don’t think residents should have to pay a new library funding request partly based on patrons who moved away or died.

    Kellogg-Hubbard Library’s new funding formula — based in most cases on the number of registered card users in each town — did not take into account inactive cardholders, so deceased patrons could have been included, the library’s top administrator said Tuesday.

    Worcester Select Board members also say they’d rather have residents pay for library cards — instead of allocating tax money — if they can’t modify the amount the library is requesting from their town.

    The library is seeking to restructure the way surrounding communities are assessed for budget requests in a way that’s more equitable than its current arrangement. As part of the restructuring, increases are also being asked.

    Worcester board members have noted that if a person moved away or died, the town could still be paying based on those registered cards. Select Board member Cheri Goldstein, who has 11 children, said she knows 10 library cards in her household aren’t being used.

    “We have less than 1,000 people in Worcester, so they’re telling us more than 70 percent have library cards, and we just think that’s way over what reality is,” Goldstein said. “We just really don’t believe that many people in town are using the library that much.”

    Larraby Fellows, a public services librarian at Community College of Vermont and a Kellogg-Hubbard board member, suggested that older electronic record-keeping systems can lack the ability to keep track of patron data in a way that makes it possible for staff to weed out patrons efficiently.

    She said she brought Worcester’s concerns to the library board about registered users who are inactive or no longer in town.

    “For all the towns, there’s going to be a margin of error that’s equal,” she said, adding that the library’s new computer system will be able to fix that.

    If the library wasn’t told that a person died or a library staffer didn’t see an obituary, then a deceased patron’s information could have been kept, said Library Director Richard Bidnick on Tuesday.

    The library created an electronic database in 2002; the data was shifted to the new system in October 2012. Bidnick said the new system, Destiny, keeps track of people’s borrowing, allowing the library to recognize inactive users in future years.

    Fellows said: “I think the formula we have going forward is moving in the right direction. We’re going to continue to tighten things up and make sure the data is accurate.”

    While the two library officials said inactive accounts could be or were an issue, one library staffer suggested otherwise. Ruth McCullough, who has been involved in data cleaning in the past, said dead patrons’ listings in the old system were switched from active to inactive. She said that if no items are checked out by a patron, cards expire each year.

    McCullough said there was a lag time of up to a year and a half in making the list up to date, so last year’s effort at updating looked at cases from 2010. She said the current list of users is fairly accurate.

    If budget requests in its six member communities are approved, the library’s municipal funding would increase by $39,049, or 9.6 percent, from $405,599 to $444,648.

    Aside from Montpelier, communities’ funding requests were calculated on a $25 fee per registered library card user. Those communities are Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex and Worcester.

    Montpelier’s request did not use that formula but instead is a 5 percent increase, Bidnick said. That translates to about $61 per registered user, but Bidnick said the city has a premium on library services that other communities don’t have due to residents’ proximity. Montpelier children, for example, can walk to the library after school.

    Fellows, the board member, said some services are measurable and some are not. She said creating a fair formula was difficult but that Bidnick’s proposed structure is very equitable.

    Residents of the surrounding communities that financially support the library currently can get library cards for free. But in communities that vote down the library’s requests, residents will have to pay $40 for a card, Bidnick said.

    If communities don’t give the full amount requested and modify the library’s request on the floor at town meeting, the library board will likely not accept that municipality’s funding, Bidnick said. The approach is due to fairness to other communities.

    “Given that choice, we’ll take the nothing,” said Goldstein, the Worcester Select Board member.

    Other models were explored for the new funding system, Bidnick said. One model was based on how many items were checked out for each community and the total value of each item. Another model was based on population.

    The library’s request for Worcester amounts to a $786, or 4.7 percent, increase from $16,739 to $17,525. It is about 2 percent of the library’s total annual spending, Fellows said.

    Goldstein suggested that until there is a better understanding of how many residents actually use the library, she didn’t believe the town was in a position to make an educated decision about the new funding setup or the proposed increase.

    The library’s funding request in Worcester amounts to less than a $1 increase on a household’s tax bill, Fellows said.

    “We support the library,” Goldstein said. “We just don’t support this funding.”

    david.taube @timesargus.com

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